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Heroic Purgatory (1970)

Rengoku eroica (original title)
An engineer's wife returns home with a lost teenager. A man posing as her dad tries to get her back, causing the engineer to recall his youth as a revolutionary, obscured by dreamlike disruptions of time and space, fantasy and reality.


Yoshishige Yoshida


Masahiro Yamada


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Cast overview:
Mariko Okada Mariko Okada ... Nanako
Kaizo Kamoda Kaizo Kamoda
Naho Kimura Naho Kimura ... Jyoko
Yoshiaki Makita Yoshiaki Makita ... Shu
Kaneko Iwasaki Kaneko Iwasaki ... Atsuko
Tôru Takeuchi Tôru Takeuchi ... Kiyoshi
Kazumi Tsutsui Kazumi Tsutsui ... Ayu


An engineer's wife returns home with a lost teenager. A man posing as her dad tries to get her back, causing the engineer to recall his youth as a revolutionary, obscured by dreamlike disruptions of time and space, fantasy and reality.

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Drama | Fantasy

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Release Date:

26 September 1970 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

Heroic Purgatory See more »

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Did You Know?


The second movie in Yoshishige Yoshida's unofficial trilogy on Japanese radicalism. The other two titles are Erosu purasu gyakusatsu (1969) and Kaigenrei (1973). See more »

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User Reviews

30 December 2014 | by mevmijaumauSee all my reviews

This movie is truly something special. Actually, it's so special that I don't know what to write about. So much is discussed in this film and equally as much is there worth discussing about it, yet there's nothing I can say or write that will adequately describe this movie. No, you simply have to experience it.

Rengoku eroica, that is, Heroic Purgatory, is the second film in Yoshishige Yoshida's Trilogy of Radicalism, preceded by Eros + Massacre (1969) and followed by Coup d'etat (1973). Yoshida's work has always been on the avant-garde, artsy side, but Heroic Purgatory is so fantastically bizarre and unconventional that the rest of his opus seems perfectly normal in comparison.

Eros + Massacre was Yoshida's magnum opus, pretty much, the film that marked his career. After such a film, directors usually have three options as to what to do next; they either make something even more stylish and unchained, or they quit making movies overall, or they start making more normal films. Yoshida did all three; first he made Heroic Purgatory (a heapton crazier and more puzzling than Eros) and Coup d'etat (which explored Japanese politics more in-depth than Eros did), then he didn't make a movie for 13 years, then he returned with more level-headed pictures.

So what is this movie about? Good question. What I got out of it is that it's about an atomic engineer Rikiya Shoda and his wife Nanako (played by Yoshida's wife Mariko Okada). While Rikiya is doing some important laser business, his wife returns home with a lost teenager called Ayu. Then, out of the blue, some guy enters their household and calls himself Ayu's father, but Ayu claims that Rikiya and Nanako are her parents. Then, the plot goes completely apeshit. Through a series of eerie oniric sequences, incomplete flashbacks, imagined time and future time set in the '80s cross-paired with the scenes taking place in the '50s, we learn that Rikiya belonged to a revolutionary communist group who planned to murder an ambassador or something, and there was probably a spy among them. And there were also some kidnappings and assassinations involved, probably false. It's like if someone with schizophrenia were to write a movie script about Japanese revolutionaries.

The characters are not just characters, most of the time they appear whatever they want to be; you can never be too sure who's the mother, who's the father, who's the revolutionary, who's the politician, who's the spy, what's anyone's role in anything. The characters' motivation is completely unclear - for whatever reason they'll casually strip naked, or wear a silly hat or take off a wig, or hug a giant champagne bottle while hitting piano notes with their feet, or walk around with an umbrella with nothing else left to do.

This movie is really best described as an intentionally incomplete puzzle; you may try to follow the plot at first, but you'll get lost very fast. You can never pay attention to one thing at a time and even if you manage to comprehend a certain scene, another one will just frankly take a dump on your perception by being contradictory, not even to the max, but just a teeny bit contradictory, which makes the entire thing even more puzzling. For example, there's the scene where Ayu talks to Nanako that they should kill all fathers. Is this related to the young revolutionaries trying to kill the heads of state? Well, who knows, because later there's a similar scene where Ayu 's anti-family speeches to Nanako completely oppose of any theory you could come up with beforehand. Everything is so damn cryptic, intangible and metaphorical. I watched the film in fragments and I still have no clue what the hell I just witnessed. You have to take notes on repeated viewings, otherwise you'll never scratch the surface of understanding this monster of a film. What's worse, this isn't a stream of non- sequitur unrelated imagery, you can feel there's a plot but there's no way you'll comprehend it unless you have a degree in Japanese radicalism.

Of course, I have to mention the visuals. Dear God, this is some top- level visual artistry. I mean wow. You can't even say that these images could work as gallery paintings because they work so well in moving image format, interacting with various creepy sounds which break the unnerving silence of the movie and play around with the characters and nearby objects. A character walking around in darkness, while the garage slowly lifts from below and reveals a bright industrial landscape in the background, for example. The camera often tries to "escape" upwards (maybe to reflect the characters' longings of having a better life?) and confronts the calm, non-emotional protagonists with parallel shots of clinical, neo-industrial architecture whose emptiness is present even in the main couple's home.

Also, plenty of mirrors and repeated images. One shot even shows the wall reflection of Nanako's reflection in a mirror, while she looks at herself in her own hand mirror and talks about wanting to be someone else. Four reflections in one. How about the frame where Ayu and Nanako's figures are reflected on a table in front of a white background, making it look like they're in a huge film track?

Lastly, the atmosphere is flawless. Even though I couldn't relate to any of the characters or even comprehend the damn plot line, the movie always kept my attention with its mix of surreal imagery and chilling choral music. This is great cinema. For a movie that feels like it's from another planet, it sure doesn't disappoint in spellbinding you.

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